I was just sixteen years old in 2003 when US troops toppled Saddam Hussein, a dictator who feared any institutions separate from the state of the ruling party, writes Yazidi journalist Nawaf Ashur Haskan. Up until then, I had spent all of my life on my grandfather’s farm, walking five miles back and forth every day to attend the school closest to our small village. During all these years, no one discussed the idea of civil society, neither in school nor in the community, he adds.
Violent extremism flourishes in societies where the government is seen as corrupt, weak, and illegitimate by its population, according to a new report from the Task Force on the Future of Iraq.
But the country’s civil society is now well-placed to nurture democratic institutions, counter sectarianism and foster inclusion, argues Haskan:
In Iraq, civil society organizations now can play a crucial role in training politicians and future as well as current government officials in a style of public speaking that is less or even non-sectarian. Sanad, an Iraqi civil society organization, has been holding seminars and workshops where they invite the heads of the different tribes from areas recently liberated from ISIL. These tribal leaders come together and discuss their common issues and goals and in so doing step away from the sectarianism and hatred that divides them. It has been a successful experiment in the central areas of Iraq, and it is critical that these institutions spread throughout the remaining regions of the country. Currently, there are about 6,000 civil society organizations in Iraq.
Nawaf Ashur Haskan is a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), engaged in research assessing the strengths and weaknesses of civil society in Iraqi-Kurdistan.